Jose Marti: The Dissident Hero

Dmitri Prieto

Jose Marti. photo:

Another anniversary of Jose’s Marti death in battle at Dos Rios (Cuba, 1895) was commemorated on May 19. The Cuban apostle had just arrived on the island after a lengthy exile, and — although he had never before participated in an armed action, and despite his being a great specialist in military history — he was involved in the first nearby combat, ending up dead from Spanish gunshots in mere minutes.

Hours earlier the military leaders of the anti-colonial war had promoted Marti to the rank of major general.

Cuban TV recently broadcasted an interesting documentary about Marti’s death. This is a matter that was always somewhat mysterious, in addition to tragic and fateful in national history. It’s difficult to understand how a man of such exceptional intelligence, great strategic thought, absolute commitment to the Cuban cause and endowed with a tremendous capacity for what today is called public relations, decided to risk his life in such a strange way.

We know that many intellectuals and common citizens today still regret that strange death, within themselves almost accusing Marti of being irresponsible. “He should have stayed in camp that day,” they think, and “perhaps later he even could have left the country again to continue engaging in politics in support of Cuba.” But evidently Marti had other criteria concerning what it meant to be a responsible politician.

This time we saw on TV an attempt at rigorous reconstruction of history and tactics, and even forensic evidence of what happened that fateful day. A large part of the program — using data and images that even today inspire a mixture of terror, pain and respect — dealt with how Marti fell mortally wounded.

However, a great virtue of the documentary is that it makes it clear that there existed contradictions between Jose Marti (a civilian and a delegate of the Cuban Revolutionary Party) and major generals Maximo Gomez and Antonio Maceo – military leaders hardened in the Ten Year’s War, in which they were respectively promoted to the ranks of Commanding General and Lieutenant General of the Cuban Liberation Army.

Marti had other plans

It seems those military leaders didn’t share Marti’s plans.  He wanted some kind of a provisional republican government formed in Cuba, without the subordination to the campaigning military commanders, while the generals wanted to avoid the errors of previous attempts at freeing the country.

Apparently this was the cause of disagreements (still today many texts on the history of Cuba avoid dealing with the issue) and why Marti ignored the advice and even orders of his military superiors (Gomez ordered him to stay in the rearguard).

For Marti, to be in the first ranks was part of his mission. He consciously disobeyed orders and went into his first and last combat action dressed in civilian clothing – in an elegant black suit. Someone said that he met death dressed like he was going to a wedding.

Two details caught my attention. The first was that the special program on national TV dealt with for the first time and in detail the dissidence of Marti (we even learn that a dissident is someone who represents a minority political tendency) with respect to the high command of that war.

In the current context it is very important to defend the idea that differences are inherent characteristics of any revolution.

The second detail was that the apostle’s death was the product of his firm decision to stay in Cuba, which was in turn consistent with his practice as a delegate of the Cuban Revolutionary Party (PRC).

The PRC was a pluralistic political organization, self-organized in a decentralized way, as was proven by the Cuban researcher Mario Castillo, among others.

Obviously, the political project of the PRC, though mediated by the exceptional thinking of Marti, was not the product of one sole mind. One can trace how the former New York journalist was learning radical organizational practices and emancipatory proposals along with Cuban workers in Florida.

The catastrophe of May 19 was the effect of a shock between dissimilar political epistemologies: popular self-organization versus vertical hierarchy.

Marti, fully consistent with his vocation, put his life at the disposition of fate in his first battle. It was his “undisciplined” manner of assuming the struggle up to the end and without considerations – consciously contravening the order of the Commander General of the Liberation Army while avoiding any escapist attitude. With his death he gave the final proof of his truth: the truth that another Cuba was still possible.

One thought on “Jose Marti: The Dissident Hero

  • It’s fairly plain that Marti was not competent as a military leader, or even as a military combatant. It does not assault his character or heroism to say so.

    The first thing a new recruit is forced to learn in boot camp however is to follow orders. While it may have been–and probably was–a natural and good thing to be a “dissident” with regard to many things, one should not blunder into battle against direct orders and get oneself killed, especially if one is so critically important to the cause.

    Perhaps the logical question might be: “Why was Marti–apparently with a history of being, shall we say, very strong willed–promoted to high military command?” The possibility might exist that someone, somewhere did not have his best interests at heart.

    I wish there were a biographical documentary available about Jose Marti in English, made from the non-sectarian, anti-capitalist point of view.

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